“Go through today with out your sense of smell.”
Let me tell you how well my sense of smell works on a normal day: not well.
Once upon a time, by which I mean last April 1st — and despite the fact that April 1st is a day on which people say things that aren’t true, this story I’m about to unfold for you is entirely true — I went down to campus. It was a Friday, and I taught at noon. I got there early, for some reason I no longer remember, but I was in the office shortly after nine, which means I left the house no later than seven — I have 45-mile drive to the train station, which can take upwards of an hour during rush hour, then a thirty-minute train ride, then a ten-minute walk. If I left the house at seven, the children were probably not yet awake, and I probably didn’t make myself an espresso, because the grinder and the espresso machine are loud, and would have woken them up. Not having had coffee doesn’t
excuse explain what happened, but it was certainly a contributing factor.
I wore a pair of Doc Martens, the soles of which look like this (and you really have to click that “this” to understand the rest of the story. I’ll wait).
I got to the office. I sat down. I started working. I smelled a smell, though I was not sure what it was that I smelled. I ignored it, thinking it was a transient smell. I smelled it again, several minutes later. I began looking for the source of the smell.
You see where this is going, right?
I must have stepped in the dog shit as I was getting into my car — because it’s sidewalks
all the way down all the way from the train station to my office — which means it was on my shoe for hours before I finally smelled it.
I repeat: dog shit — dog shit — on my shoe, for hours before I noticed it.
That’s how well my sense of smell works.
Day 176 was “Free Pet Day” — I was tasked with creating a vague-enough-to-fit-lots-of-animals “lost pet” flyer, posting it around town, and thereby acquiring a pet that someone else lost.
I don’t need another pet: we have two dogs, and soon we’ll have a cat, once it gets big enough to fend off the dogs. So rather than creating a sort-of-convincing flyer, I went with a variation of the Have you seen this dog? / I have now joke. I printed up 20 or so of the flyers, and was going to post them up in a local park that has a walking/running path. I kept putting it off, because it’s hot out all the time, and I could never get up and moving early enough that I wouldn’t break a sweat just walking outside.
And then, yesterday, our dogs ran away.
This isn’t the first time: they escape periodically, run around for a bit, and then come back — and usually we notice they’re gone almost immediately, and go get them. Yesterday, though, even though we knew they’d escaped pretty soon after the fact, they had disappeared by the time we (well, Lorna and the kids) went out looking for them.
They didn’t wander back in a timely manner. We called the pound; no luck. Late in the afternoon, I put up “lost dog” flyers; no calls, yet. We’re hoping that someone took them in, and will see one of the flyers soon, and then we’ll have our dogs back. If they don’t ever come back to us, we’ll just tell ourselves that they found a different good home, and are happy.
And we’ll have a cat, at least.
…stupid fucking dogs.
This task has been at the back of my mind for a week or so — I scan ahead every few days, to mentally prepare myself for what’s coming — and I have had no luck in deciding what “phase” to go through. Also, don’t phases last more than a day? Wouldn’t a day-long phase just be a mood?
I was no closer to deciding on a phase when I woke up this morning, and by about noon had said “fuck it, self, let’s go bowling” — there would be no phase, just some bullshit about a phase that didn’t happen.
Well, as the fellow once said, some are born for phases, some achieve phases, and some have phases thrust upon them. Today, I had a phase thrust upon me: I went through my “misdemeanoring” phase.
I had to drive down to campus today, to accomplish two tasks: to put a rug down in my (shared, not-a-closet) office, and to pick up my laptop from OIT.
The rug in question is large enough that I didn’t want to carry it far, especially in the middle of the afternoon in the summer in Texas. I don’t have a campus parking permit, because I take the train almost exclusively, and the parking I usually make use of on those rare occasions when I do drive is further from my office than I was happy about, because of that rug-carrying thing. So, I made use of one of the few metered parking spots that’s within a hundred or so yards of my building.
I fed the meter an hour’s worth of quarters — four of them — and made a mental note of the time, which I promptly lost, because I didn’t expect my two tasks to take up more than an hour, even with the milling about the office and the printing of things for last Saturday’s task that I haven’t done yet, about which more later—— anyway, I expected to be back in the car in an hour, and so paid little attention to the time.
As it happened, I did not return to the car for an hour and twenty minutes, or perhaps an hour and a half, and there was — of course — a parking ticket on my windshield. Thirty dollars for an extra twenty minutes of parking, on a summer afternoon when nobody was on campus anyway.
This made me angry. Unjustifiably angry, I know, but angry nonetheless. I contemplated sending in a scathing letter or dead cockroaches or a photograph of an abnormally large penis instead of a check, but eventually talked myself out of it. I may or may not pay the ticket — I’m feeling misdemeanorlyish, after all — but I’m not going to subject an innocent desk jockey somewhere to my vitriol.
Really, though, this isn’t a misdemeanoring phase at all, but a taking minor inconveniences that are my own fault and trying to turn them into occasions for righteous anger and not succeeding and then being generally crabby and unpleasant to be around phase — which is how I am all the time anyway, and so I don’t think it counts as a phase at all.
Once again: fuck it, I’m going
bowling to bed (after another bourbon).
So, earlier today I was at [redacted], attending [function where this sort of thing is very out of place]. I saw [redacted] in the crowd, with whom I have the slightest of acquaintances, due to [redacted]. She looked even more stunning than usual, which is saying something. I approached her, abandoning my wife.
Me: You looking stunning.
Her: [a bit startled]: Thank you…
Me: Even more stunning than usual, which is saying something. I always enjoyed seeing you at [redacted].
Me: That dress is amazing. It really accentuates your [redacted], and your [redacted] looks fabulous. Have you been working out?
Her: [polite but cold smile]
Me: Look, this [function] is going to be a waste of our time. Let’s get out of here, go have a few drinks.
Her: I’m not sure—
Me: Let me cut to the chase. I want to have sex with you.
Her: [shocked, open-mouthed stare]
Me: Should I take that as a yes? [pause] You see, I’m blogging through this Book—
Her: [forceful slap]
People around us: [suddenly silent and staring]
Me: [pause, then—]: Alright, seriously, just once, I think it could be a lot of fun—
Her husband: [smashing right cross to the side of my head]
Me: [sudden loss of consciousness]
[Cut to black. Fade in, new scene: a ditch, between a small two-lane highway and a field. There are cows. It’s dusk.]
Me: [slowly regaining consciousness in the ditch.]
Me: Well, that didn’t work out like I’d hoped…
[long pause; cattle lowing in the distance, off-screen]
Me: [staggering to my feet, looking around trying to get my bearings]: Where the fuck am I?
[a car passes]
[I start walking east]
[fade to black, roll credits]
The doorbell rang.
I looked up from the couch, where I was having a morning glass of cabernet and reading A Scanner Darkly, and saw the delivery-person walking back down the sidewalk.
That’s odd, I thought, I haven’t ordered anything recently, and who would send me an unsolicited package?
I got up, opened the door, and picked up the package. It was a smallish, nondescript box: the only thing on it, in fact, was the combined postage-and-address label. It lacked a return address.
Confused, I closed the door, carried the package and my wine into the kitchen, set the package on the island, stopped: I stared at the box for a few moments, oddly reluctant to open it; I drained my glass of wine, poured a second, and got out a knife. I will admit that I got out a much bigger knife than was necessary to cut the tape keeping the box shut, but I was worried that whatever was inside might need to be stabbed. Don’t ask me why: it had given no indication that there was something alive inside, and the rational part of my mind — slower than usual, because of the wine — felt sure that this was either a harmless gift or a stupid prank, and that I was likely to injure myself. I proceeded anyway.
Inside the box, wrapped in an excessive amount of brown packing paper, was a doll. A voodoo doll, at least according to the tag tied around its neck. Also, it looked like me.
Who would send me a voodoo doll of myself? And why?
Obviously, I had to see if it actually worked. I set the doll on the counter, looked around the kitchen, remembered the knife in my hand…
…and then realized how stupid I was being. I set the knife down, picked up my wine, drained it, poured myself another glass. Look, I said to myself, out loud, there are two possibilities here: either it’s an actual voodoo doll, or it’s a present someone made you, and either way, hacking at it with a knife is a bad idea. I decided it was a gift, and the giver would soon reveal him- or herself, and we’d have a good laugh when I told the story of almost attacking it. Ha ha ha, we’d say, and then we’d talk about other things.
I put the doll on my bookshelf, sitting in front of Hemingway, because I never read Hemingway, and went back to my wine and A Scanner Darkly. I couldn’t concentrate on the book anymore, though, and instead finished the glass of wine — my third? my fourth? — and fell asleep.
I slept fitfully, plagued by odd dreams that vanished completely on waking, leaving behind only a vague sense of unease. When I woke fully, it was dark outside, windy, thundering, and soon it began raining torrentially. I got up, head clouded, and staggered into the kitchen. The doll was on the island, with the knife.
Standing on the island. Holding the knife.
We stared at each other, I have no idea for how long. I wasn’t sure whether the doll was going to attack me directly, or attack me by attacking himself; I wasn’t sure I was actually awake; I was trying to get my groggy brain to come up with some plan for dealing with a knife-wielding voodoo doll. I was saved the trouble of acting: the doll raised the knife and stabbed himself in the gut; he buried the knife to the hilt, and several inches of it came out his back. He staggered, fell forward, and lay still.
I didn’t feel a thing.
It wasn’t a great place to grow up: my mom had been shacked up with this short, hairy, greedy little bastard for as long as I could remember. Never knew who my father was. This dude my mom had hooked up with was the closest to a father-figure I had, I guess, but he did a shitty job; he treated my mom like a live-in maid, and me like an unwanted burden. He ran an auto repair shop, and put me to work almost as soon as I could walk. I think he had something shady going on, on the side – a back-room gambling operation, something like that.
When I was twelve, these two dudes came through town – had a hot, probably-not-quite-legal chick with them – man, did I have crush on her –– anyway, their rig had broken down, they needed some parts, brought it to the shop. The older dude took an interest in me right away – said I had ‘special talents’, something like that, and dropped hints that I should come with them. I was more than happy to get the fuck out of there, so when they left, I went with them.
They turned out to be drifters of some sort, and I think members of some sort of cult. They kept talking about how they were ‘protecting’ the ‘queen’ they had with them.
Shit got pretty out of hand a few weeks after I took up with them: the dudes ran into some dude from, I don’t know, a rival cult? Things turned violent really quickly, the old dude died, then the young dude killed the other dude. He dropped the ‘queen’ shortly thereafter, and he and I toured the country for a while. It was pretty cool, despite being pretty fucked-up – not that I had a good frame of reference, anyway. Dude was like the older brother I never had, and we got along pretty well, for a while.
Eventually, when I was, I don’t know, 19 or so, I decided to track down my mother. Went back to the shop I grew up in, found the short hairy bastard – told me he’d ditched my mom years ago, and she’d married some other dude. When I tracked him down, he told me my mom had been kidnapped by sand people about a month before.
I found her, she died in my arms, and I sort of lost my shit. Killed the whole tribe. Since then, Obi-Wan and I haven’t been getting along as well.
I will note, however, that regular bowel movements, at 8 points, are worth almost as much as being alive, which is a mere 10 points – and those two things alone put one nearly halfway to 40 points, at which point one is “luckier that 90% of the human race.”
It’s that “luckier than 90% of the human race bit” that makes the checklist pointless: I already know that I’m ridiculously lucky. I’m happy. I have a good life: a wonderful, beautiful wife; children who only drive me to drink some of the time; good friends; cars that run; more than one bicycle; an adequate amount of books; &c, &c.
I have some problems, sure, but all of my problems are #firstworldproblems.
All of your problems are first-world problems, too. Do you have indoor plumbing? Yes. Do you have to shit in a hole in the ground outside? No. Could you shit in a hole in the ground outside if you wanted to? Yes, and that’s the fucking definition of luxury, right there.
Do you have access to clean water? Yes. Do you have to worry about dying from a treatable, preventable disease? No, not unless you do something stupid. Do you have to worry that the café where you have your morning coffee is going to blow up, with you inside? No. Do you have to worry about rotting in prison for no good reason? Only if you get caught with weed.
Do you have to worry about finding an endless, impossible, constantly-changing, minotaur-concealing room in your house? No, because nobody has to worry about that. Do you have to worry about dying in a zombie apocalypse? You would, if one was ever going to happen, especially if you live in an urban area.
Your life is pretty great, so quit your bitching. Get yourself a beer – or a glass of wine, or a scotch, or whatever – flop down on your couch, put your feet up, watch some TV, and pretend that there aren’t people out there suffering and dying right this very minute. It’s your duty as an American.